Representatives of the various parties to the hydroelectric licensing process convened Nov. 3 to discuss the effectiveness of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Integrated Licensing Process for hydroelectric projects.
Anna West of consultant Kearns & West led the national technical conference called by FERC to discuss experience with the ILP, which was created to provide a more streamlined and efficient means of obtaining a license. (HydroWorld 7/27/10) West reported on information gathered by regional workshops and by telephone interviews with agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations, licensees, commission staff, and others.
The conference focused on gathering information to evaluate the effectiveness of the ILP and refining ideas to improve implementation of the process.
West outlined strengths of the ILP process including: deadlines and timelines that help keep everyone on schedule; encouragement that issues be resolved locally; a more understandable process than the traditional and alternative licensing processes, especially for stakeholders with a smaller role; some flexibility within the strict guidelines; and early integration of environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Many of the participants complained it is difficult to comply with tight deadlines within the ILP schedule. However, none was ready to abandon the process. It was acknowledged that the process originally was designed to prevent years-long delays in obtaining hydro licenses.
Several participants suggested modifications to, or flexibility within, ILP timeframes. David Dean of the Connecticut River Watershed Council said he does not necessarily advocate lengthening the ILP process, but added there might be a consensus for the flexibility to move process deadlines if it would save time overall and avoid decisions under time pressure that might result in litigation.
Others, such as Julie Tupper of the U.S. Forest Service, said they had learned to anticipate the time crunch by starting to review projects ahead of schedule. Tupper said the ILP structure has become a stumbling block that adds to contentiousness.
Larry Thompson of the National Marine Fisheries Service said so many participants, such as Tupper, had devised “work-arounds” to cope with the ILP schedules that it might be a sign that the process actually is not working very well.
“We’re creating processes to plug holes in the ILP,” Thompson said. “… That might be evidence that the process is not working.”
But, in conclusion, several participants said it would be better to “tweak” the ILP process than to subject it to massive revision.
“The regulations seem to be working as designed. I think the tradeoffs are fair,” Bob Dach of the Bureau of Indian Affairs said by telephone hookup. “I’d hate to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Much of the discussion dealt with criteria for licensing studies, study plan development and review, and post-licensing coordination among FERC and other agencies.
Frank Simms of hydro operator American Electric Power said the ILP is beneficial and the utility would use it again. He said problems might actually lie in achieving cooperation and coordination among FERC and resource agencies with mandatory conditioning powers under Clean Water Act Section 401 and Federal Power Act Section 4(e).
Several participants called for earlier participation in the pre-licensing collaborative process by FERC staff, to provide guidance, build a better record, and to improve cooperation among the license applicant, resource agencies, and stakeholder groups.
Matt Rice of American Rivers said license applicants are able to utilize the tight time schedule “to determine the outcome.” He said for that reason it is important for FERC staff to participate in the process as early as possible.
It also was suggested that FERC establish an Internet site for each project undergoing licensing, so that participants could easily find all relevant information on a project’s process. FERC was complimented on recent changes in its website, www.ferc.gov, that have made some information easier to find.
West said information collected in the conference, regional seminars, and interviews would be used to issue an updated ILP guidebook. A recorded webcast of the conference may be obtained from the FERC Internet archive at http://capitolconnection.gmu.edu/ferc/ferc.htm.
FERC will continue to take written comments until Dec. 3 under docket No. AD10-7. Comments may be filed electronically using instructions at www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/efiling.asp. Filings on paper may be submitted in original and seven copies to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St., N.E., Washington, DC 20426.
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